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Senate F-22 Vote Makes America Safer

July 25, 2009

Notably in the same week the US Senate voted 58-40 to finally stop production of the 30-year old F-22 Raptor fighter, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announces a 22,000 increase in Army strength. Mr Gates must have been somewhat relieved by the vote, as he is now able to devote more attention planning for present threats and foes without worrying over future imaginary wars, or in the case of the Raptor, enemies of the past.

Fred Kaplan calls the Senate vote “a big deal”:

Not only is this a major victory for Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who lobbied strenuously (something he rarely does) to kill this program, and for President Barack Obama, who pledged to veto the defense bill if it contained a nickel for more F-22s. The vote might also mark the beginning of a new phase in defense politics, a scaling-back of the influence that defense contractors have over budgets and policies…

That’s really what the F-22 has come to be about. The Air Force shrewdly spread the plane’s contracts to firms in 46 states, thus giving a solid majority of senators—and a lot of House members, too—a financial (and, therefore, electoral) stake in the program’s survival.

The vote may also be a recognition that we are in a new era of warfare, away from one of Cold War deterrence to a more active role, militarily but also economically in the affairs of the world. No longer can we sit behind sophisticated air defenses, or trust in our Navy to shield us when a terrorist with a suicide bomb can change the balance of power. While the threat of great-power conflict has declined significantly (an ongoing process since World War 2), the dire need to strike at rogue terrorists “where they live” is even greater, especially when they come armed with advanced weapons bought from the open arms markets comparable to our own.

Canceling the Raptor is also significant if you consider it a parting from 20th Century 3rd Generation Warfare, to 21st Century 4GW. Last year we wrote about this trend:

It becomes increasingly evident these are all signs that the military is unable to produce new technology and release it into the hands of our fighting forces in time for the wars we are fighting now. Almost none of the major defense projects underway before the start of the War on Terror has had any bearing on the conflict at all, some 7 years later. Other than the Navy’s fine F-18 Super Hornet, itself a retread of the 1970’s Hornet light fighter, none have even seen combat, including the USAF’s much touted F-22 Raptor.

The attitude in the military seems to be to try and deter wars with daunting and high tech weaponry. When such a wishful strategy fails, as it often does, the boots on the ground are often left with antiquated weapons left over from the last war (the A-10 Warthog), or the rare low tech platform rushed into the service (like Stryker armored cars and MRAP vehicles) just in time to make a difference.

The more technical services like the Air Force and Navy seem to look on the insurgency wars we frequently find ourselves involved in with casual boredom. They are eager to end such conflicts so they can return to “real” warfighting. This also includes periodic changes in strategies ( though little change in weapon’s procurement), endless excesses to prepare for the really Big Wars, and frequent bartering with Congress for the latest pet project which the admirals or generals have taken a liking to.

These days, the third rate powers which the Pentagon refuses to take serious are arming themselves with first world weaponry. Cruise missile armed submarines are on the market for whoever possesses enough oil wealth to afford them. Non-states like Hezbollah can arm themselves with the latest SAMs through their sponsors in Syria. Even African Warlords can shoot down our helicopters with the masses of RPG weapons available on the arms market. Terrorists like Al Qaeda can hijack entire nations with a few home-made bombs strategically placed.

The arms market is becoming less about heavy tanks, air superiority fighters, or guided missile battleships. These weapons, unlike their low tech brethren, can no longer be massed produced quickly. They have become magnificent works of art which only a few master craftsmen (whose numbers are also shrinking) can produce in dwindling numbers.

The future then belongs to tiny computer gadgets, which are bought off the shelf and obsolete in a few years. Such weapons will include robots for use in the air, on land and under the sea. Older type weapon may include light armored vehicles, light fighters, and light missiles boats; all of which will be slightly updated versions or existing copies of older designs.

This was written as a rebuttal to an article at the Examiner.com.

14 Comments leave one →
  1. Mike Burleson permalink*
    July 27, 2009 5:41 pm

    I know it looks hopeless Byron, but we have to try. Who’d thought we’d ever get rid of the F-22 Raptor? That thing was born when I was in junior high, and now I’m pushing Middle Age!

    If we can still mass produce armored vehicles and UAVs we ought to be able to mass produce something that can fight the pirates. I’d start by throwing the old rule books that ships must be multi-purpose, and that they must be self-sustaining, out the window. Lets get back to basics and we can have more hulls in the water.

    And they don’t have to be “undergunned, under-capable” since small warships have been on the front lines in all our wars. I didn’t just pull these ideas out of a hat but from a heavy dose of naval history. Thanks to modern precision technology, these little Davids are more capable than ever. They can be anti-missile ships, aviation ships, bombardment vessels, small boats destroyers, patrol vessels, and amphibious ships. Just punch “corvette” in our search engine if you are interested in further details!

  2. Heretic permalink
    July 27, 2009 4:59 pm

    You’ll still have to get past all the mil spec aquisition road blocks. Look at LCS: We spend in excess of a half billion (thats a five with EIGHT zeros behind it) for a gunboat. What do you think we’d get for something a bit bigger with more weapons?

    In this case (LCS), the exhorbitant pricetag is the Navy’s fault … for not being able to allow the design to be “frozen” even after metal is being cut *and installed*. Keep messing around long enough with a design, continually revising and revisiting and changing and mucking about, and the price goes through the roof because you can’t decide what the frakk you actually want.

    If the Navy had “bought a clue” before beginning this adventure in shipbuilding, they wouldn’t have gone off on a wild goose chase like they have. Easily half the cost overruns on the LCS are simply due to the Navy changing the requirements (and demands) on a daily basis even after construction has begun because they can’t make up their minds about what they want. That’s not the shipyard’s fault … it’s the customer’s (ie. the Navy’s).

    Way too many procurement programs run on political capital, rather than on “best practices” that can deliver the greatest amount of bang per buck.

    One SSN-774 per year for 3 billion dollars … or two per year for 2 billion each?
    The navy program office had to *fight* to get more money spent to save money on the Virgina program. Getting 2 boats for 4 billion makes a lot more sense than buying 1 for 3 billion … right?

    And it’s precisely those sorts of production numbers that the DoD (and its congress critters) keeps screwing up again and again and again and again with their “saving money” accounting schemes that only deliver less for more in the long run.

  3. Byron permalink
    July 27, 2009 3:34 pm

    Ok, how many of your undergunned, under-capable “destroyers” would it take to replace one Burke? Would it have Aegis? Would it have VLS? Would it be able to deploy with helos aboard? Would it be able to serve as a BG commanders ship? The Burke can do ALL of these. And get over the idea you can mass-produce small ships for the Navy; You’ll still have to get past all the mil spec aquisition road blocks. Look at LCS: We spend in excess of a half billion (thats a five with EIGHT zeros behind it) for a gunboat. What do you think we’d get for something a bit bigger with more weapons?

  4. Mike Burleson permalink*
    July 27, 2009 3:10 pm

    Byron trust me, this blogger in no way is trying to “make the LCS more appealing” Trust me, or read any post here on the subject.

    The Burkes are not your traditional destroyer. A destroyer is a hard hitting vessel, sure, but also easy to mass produce in wartime, able to slink into shallow seas very close to shore, much like the LCS, only far better armed. A 10,000 ton vessel 100 years ago would have been a Blue Water armored cruiser, or a pre-dreadnought battleship. This Navy tries to pass off their $2 billion superships as “destroyers”, but this argument is wearing thin. Such a notion seems to insure we have a steadily shrinking fleet, not even built to fight but to deter.

  5. Byron permalink
    July 27, 2009 12:59 pm

    Mike, what do you think a REAL modern battleship would cost today? How about the price tag on CG-1000? or the Arsenal ship? Those are closer to battleships than destroyers.

    The traditional role of a destroyer has been as an escort vessel. Burkes were designed to escort carriers and provide minimal shore bombardment…the same role that tin cans played in WW2. The term “battleship” is one that is used to minimize the effectiveness of the Burkes and to make the LCS more appealing. Shrewd marketing, but very deceptive.

  6. Mike Burleson permalink*
    July 27, 2009 10:08 am

    “Destroyers are NOT battleships”

    Battleships is a relative term. With modern destroyers and frigates, many equipped with the Aegis radar system or something similar, long range cruise missiles rivaling the combat radius of airplanes, these are some of the most expensive and powerful warships ever devised. They may not have as much armor as an Iowa class battleships, but their active and passive defenses are an armor of sorts, of the electronic kind. In most conditions they can operate without an escorting carrier, where at one time they couldn’t live without its aerial shield. They are easily battleships in any navy.

  7. Byron permalink
    July 27, 2009 8:22 am

    Mike, it’s not about the size of the ship, it’s about National Will and politicians using Navy ships to posture. Destroyers are NOT battleships, and attempting to characterize as such is mis-leading. And yes, crew comfort is important. It’s related to not only morale, but crew rest, and this is directly linked to warfighting capability. Besides, I wouldn’t call a rack “comfortable, given that the matress is 4” thick, and sailors refer to them as “coffins”. Also, they have an area 74″ long by 30″ wide by 3″ deep under their “coffin” and an additional locker about 30″ tall by 6″ wide by 30″ deep to store EVERYTHING they have including uniforms, toiletries, skivies, shower clogs, civilian clothes, a notepad to write the wife/girlfriend/parents etc. If that’s a “cruise ship”, I suggest you spend a month on a frigate to re-set your idea of “cruise ship”.

  8. Joe permalink
    July 26, 2009 10:58 pm

    Mike said: “Joe I don’t think the problem is about spending, except we spend too much on the weapons we buy…”

    I don’t think I made a prior posting visit to this thread, Mike :)

  9. Mike Burleson permalink*
    July 25, 2009 9:45 pm

    Byron, we’ve loaded peacetime specifications on giants battleships and say they are for war. So now they are not only warships but logistic ships, tenders, and cruise ships for crew comfort. then we send them off to fight pirates in speed boats or non-naval powers like the Taliban. Am I the only one who sees how ludicrous and wasteful this is?

    Sure, we may just fight a peer enemy someday, but we overemphasize it so much that we have nothing left for the low-end conflicts we always, always, always seem to fight. We fret over the high tech so much we have become paranoid and bankrupt.

  10. Byron permalink
    July 25, 2009 9:28 pm

    Mike, because you can’t be certain that we won’t face a hi-tech enemy. And if you could see the waste in the procurement process, you’d see that we could afford the Raptor AND fund other programs. Kill LCS, buy a license to build a real frigate, and forget that working inside the 10 fathom line.

    Everyone keeps saying, we need to go smaller. No more “battleships”. Here’s a clue: the reason why DDGs and CGs are so damn big are 1) time on station (lots of stores), ability to fight the ship and save the ship at the same time, and last but not least, put a serious ass-kicking on the bad guys. The only way you should ever send a small vessel inside the 10 fathom line is if it’s got coverage from a large warship or aircraft.

  11. Mike Burleson permalink*
    July 25, 2009 7:47 pm

    Joe I don’t think the problem is about spending, except we spend too much on the weapons we buy, and then must use the few we can afford in these Third World countries where all their advances and high technology is wasted. Or like the F-22, they are useless for the type of fighting we mainly do.

    Our enemies use low tech weapons against us. Why can’t we buy our own low tech, match it with the unsurpassed training of the average Western soldier, and still win our wars, present or future. But some say we need these high tech planes to deter future threats. Conventional weapons for deterrence? How did we ever get to this point?

  12. Byron permalink
    July 25, 2009 2:21 pm

    Then maybe we aren’t spending enough. Everyone forgets that once a production line is stopped, especially with todays aircraft, getting it going again is just as expensive, just as time consuming. Keep in mind the workforce: if you decide in two years that country “X” is building the hell out of SU-33s and you need to start the Raptors again, you’ll be screwed. By the time you get the people AND the line going again, we’ll already be way behind the curve.

    Never, EVER forget that the key element to creating, keeping and maintaining the armed forces is people like me. We make your platforms, we upgrade them, we keep them fighting. The military does very little of this any more. Just ask a Naval Aviator who does Depot Level maintainence…or an Air Force pilot. Five will get you ten that it’s a bunch of civilians (who probably used to be service members) with a huge bank of knowledge and experience. Then look at their median age. I’ll bet that it’s somewhere near the half century mark.

    It’s stupid for us to have as few warships as we have, and as few fifth gen fighters as we have. This will leave us with a gaping hole in capability which is increasingly dangerous in unsettled times.

  13. Mike Burleson permalink*
    July 25, 2009 1:18 pm

    Byron, unprepared for the future or unprepared for the past conflicts? I think I will trust the strategist of today with today’s threats, rather than those from 30 years ago when this plane was first ordered. Today we need many good enough planes to deal with multiple threats, plus the myriad low tech enemies which the F-22 wasn’t designed to combat. Spending so much precious funds to field only a few planes doesn’t seem the smart thing today when our enemies can expand their militaries quickly just buying “off the shelf weapons”.

  14. Byron permalink
    July 25, 2009 9:10 am

    The problem with this decision is that it leaves us unprepared for the future. Betting all your money on an aircraft that hasn’t even flown yet, and is not one half as lethal is beyond foolish. Looking at our potential enemies today and saying, “good enough” is short-sighted and dangerous.

    What do we do in five years when most of the F-15s will be relagated to the drone target fleet, the F-16s all parcelled out to Guard units, the A-10 the same and dwindling fast, and the Navy down to the Super Hornets (and no real tanker in sight to keep a notorious short-legged tactical aircraft in the fight)? Hope for a small war against an asymetric enemy?

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